A Bill of Rights for the Homeless? Or more restrictions?

The Rhode Island General Assembly recently passed a “Homeless Bill of Rights.

It’s in response to a growing list of cities that have passed laws restricting activity by homeless people, and by service providers. Here’s an article from USA Today on the topic:

Mark McDonald, press secretary for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, said the measures are about expanding the services offered to the homeless, adding dignity to their lives and about ensuring good public hygiene and safety.

“This is about an activity on city park land that the mayor thinks is better suited elsewhere,” he said. “We think it’s a much more dignified place to be in an indoor sit-down restaurant. … The overarching policy goal of the mayor is based on a belief that hungry people deserve something more than getting a ham sandwich out on the side of the street.”

If people come inside for feeding programs, they can be connected with other social service programs and possibly speak with officials such as substance abuse counselors and mental health professionals, McDonald said.

I wonder how many feeding programs across the country are staffed with social workers, substance abuse counselors and mental health professionals. I wonder how much money these cities dedicate to funding social services for homeless people, and whether it’s adequate to address the problems. In fact, to provide lasting help to homeless people, to get them in a stable living situation, requires a lot of money and intense engagement by service providers. These laws are intended for one purpose only, to lower the visibility of homeless people.

Don’t get me wrong. I sympathize with property owners who are frustrated by the presence of homeless people on city sidewalks, in parks and on benches. But until our society provides adequate space for them, there will be places where homeless people congregate and to help them, the services must be delivered where they are, not where we want them to be.

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